Saturday, April 21, 2007

Is technology the seventh kingdom in life?

This is the affirmation Kevin Kelly's talk on Evolution makes looking at technology's place in evolution. He brilliantly asks himself "What does technology want?". He reviews the different kingdoms as different ways of hacking life and he theorizes about technology being the seventh kingdom after animalia. He evaluates the characteristics of evolution itself: ubiquitous, diversity, specialization (going to general to specialized purposes), drift towards complexity, sociability (moves to increase co-evolution).

I do agree a lot in his realization that there is a need to place technology somewhere in the traditional view of life kingdoms. There is something radically different happening since technology emerged that begs for a redefinition. It's even hard to determine the exact time when technology emerged. The moment life starts it will increasingly start to interact with its environment. The moment life starts to modify its environment in any way, the destiny of technology is traced. The interaction with the media will evolve and eventually it'll become more and more sophisticated until one day it'll involve an external non biological source of energy. Once an external source of energy is invented machines are just going to happen along the line. Eventually machines will want to connect and socialize to become smarter. It seems like the evolution of technology is just a natural outcome of species trying to re-assure their survival by modifying and controlling their environment. I think of it as an inevitable evolutionary path. Just the normal development in the infinite game of life.

Is technology the seventh kingdom in life?

This is a very controversial affirmation for me and the way I was seeing it before listening to his talk.
I have trouble believing that technology is the seventh kingdom as technology doesn't happen on its own. Technology -in a significant way that is changing the face of the Earth and the interaction between the rest of the kingdoms- is being created and generated by humans. Technology is a product of human evolution. Technology is the glue that is keeping humans together. I used to believe that the turning point in drawing the line between kingdoms ought to be traced in humans and not in technology. My theory was more that humans have to be the seventh kingdom as they hacked life in two ways substantially different than any other kingdom before them:
1. they have the capacity to create technology that operate on their own non-biological source of energy (not their food nor their composition is biologic).
2. the technology they create, acts as the glue to make a connected super organism that is more than the sum of its parts. This thought was reinforced by a comment that Ray Kurzweil makes in his TED talk as well on the evolution subject. This amazing talk on evolution, less controversial and more factual, goes a little bit over the history of how unicellular species went to multicellular ones by hanging out together and connecting themselves more and more.

Also, another argument in this direction is: where do cyborgs stand? Humans are increasingly becoming cyborgs and as they do so they would not seem to be in any of the two kingdoms exclusively (nor animalia nor technology) but a mix of both.

On the other side, I'm starting to see Kelly's points in defining technology as a kingdom in itself. Technology seems to have it's own drive. It seems to hack life in a totally different way. It does follow the rules of ubiquitous, diversity, specialization, complexity, sociability. Maybe one day it'll achieve the ability to be born, reproduce and maybe even die, which used to be the definition of being a live being. So, maybe, it's just my human self centered-ness that makes me see it as humans have to be the new kingdom ...

If we go with Kelly's definition, should we drive the conclusion then that silicon based life is a new and even more evolved path than biological life itself? Is this going to change when technology and biology mix as it's about to happen soon with genetics, nano biological robots, etc?

A lot to think here ... I'd like to know sociologist and antropologist point of view on this one too as I'm totally coming from the biologist evolution perspective ...

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